Chelsea. A room in More’s house.
(Sir Thomas More; Randall; First Sheriff; Faulkner; Officers; Surrey; Erasmus; Attendants; Master Morris)
More reflects on his unexpected rise from commoner to the highest position in the land under the King, and reminds himself not to become too proud. He has invited the well-known scholar Erasmus to visit, and decides to play a prank on him: he has his servant Randall dress up in his clothes and pretend to be him. More warns Randall not too say too much in case that gives the trick away. The Sheriff brings in a long-haired, long-bearded ruffian named Faulkner, who has refused to be judged by anyone other than More. Discovering that he serves the secretary of the Bishop of Winchester, the irritated More promises him his freedom if he’ll cut his hair. Faulkner absolutely refuses, and More packs him off to Newgate prison for either three years or a month, depending on whether he changes his mind or not. Erasmus then arrives, accompanied by Surrey, who praises More to his visitor. Randall overplays his part a little, to Erasmus’s shock; still, when Randall begins to spew out anti-Dutch jokes, More decides that things have gone far, and appears to take back his rightful place. He excuses his joke by saying that it was a demonstration of a philosophical point. Erasmus professes to be amused. More mentions that Surrey is a poet, to the latter’s protest that this makes him seem a light-minded fool, but More consoles him. He sends Surrey and Erasmus off to dinner, when Master Morris, the Bishop of Winchester’s secretary, arrives to plead for Faulkner. When More hears that Faulkner has had his hair cut, he agrees to free the lout. Faulkner bemoans the loss of his hair, to Morris’s disgust, but despite the latter’s threats of dismissing him, he keeps his job. (227 lines)
A table being covered with a green carpet, a state cushion on it, and the purse and mace lying thereon.
Enter Sir Thomas More.
It is in heaven that I am thus and thus;
And that which we profanely term our fortunes
Is the provision of the power above,
Fitted and shaped just to that strength of nature
Which we are borne withal. Good God, good God,
That I from such an humble bench of birth
Should step as ’twere up to my country’s head,
And give the law out there! I, in my father’s life,
To take prerogative and tithe of knees
From elder kinsmen, and him bind by my place
To give the smooth and dexter way to me
That owe it him by nature! Sure, these things,
Not physicked by respect, might turn our blood
To much corruption. But, More, the more thou hast,
Either of honor, office, wealth, and calling,
Which might excite thee to embrace and hub them,
The more doe thou in serpents’ natures think them;
Fear their gay skins with thought of their sharp state;
And let this be thy maxim, to be great
Is when the thread of hayday is once ’spon,
A bottom great wound up great undone.
Come on, sir. Are you ready?
Enter Randall, attired like Sir Thomas More.
Yes, my lord, I stand but on a few points; I shall have done
Presently. Before God, I have practiced your lordship’s shift so
Well, that I think I shall grow proud, my lord.
’Tis fit thou shouldst wax proud, or else thou’lt ne’er
Be near allied to greatness. Observe me, sirrah.
The learned clark Erasmus is arrived
Within our English court. Last night I hear
He feasted with our honored English poet,
The Earl of Surrey; and I learned today
The famous clark of Rotterdam will visit
Sir Thomas More. Therefore, sir, take my seat;
You are Lord Chancellor. Dress your behavior
According to my carriage; but beware
You talk not over much, for twill betray thee:
Who prates not much seems wise; his wit few scan;
While the tongue blabs tales of the imperfect man.
I’ll see if great Erasmus can distinguish
Merit and outward ceremony.
If I do not serve a share for playing of your lordship well, let me be yeoman usher to your sumpter, and be banished from wearing of a gold chain forever.
Well, sir, I’ll hide our motion. Act my part
With a firm boldness, and thou winst my heart.
Enter the Sheriff, with Faulkner a ruffian, and Officers.
How now! What’s the matter?
Tug me not, I’m no bear. ’Sblood, if all the dogs in Paris Garden hung at my tail, I’d shake ’em off with this, that I’ll appear before no king christened but my good Lord Chancellor.
We’ll christen you, sirrah. Bring him forward.
How now! What tumults make you?
The azured heavens protect my noble Lord Chancellor!
What fellow’s this?
A ruffian, my lord, that hath set half the city in an uproar.
There was a fray in Paternoster-row, and because they would not be parted, the street was choked up with carts.
My noble lord, Paniar Allies throat was open.
Sirrah, hold your peace.
I’ll prove the street was not choked, but is as well as ever it was since it was a street.
This fellow was a principal broacher of the broil.
’Sblood, I broached none; it was broached and half run out, before I had a lick at it.
And would be brought before no justice but your honor.
I am hailed, my noble lord.
No ear to choose for every trivial noise
But mine, and in so full a time? Away!
You wrong me, Master Sheriff. Dispose of him
At your own pleasure; send the knave to Newgate.
To Newgate! ’Sblood, Sir Thomas More, I appeal, I appeal from Newgate to any of the two worshipful Counters.
Fellow, whose man are you, that are thus lusty?
My name’s Jack Faulkner; I serve, next under God and my prince, Master Morris, secretary to my Lord of Winchester.
A fellow of your hair is very fit
To be a secretary’s follower!
I hope so, my lord. The fray was between the Bishops’ men of Ely and Winchester; and I could not in honor but part them. I thought it stood not with my reputation and degree to come to my questions and answers before a city justice. I knew I should to the pot.
Thou hast been there, it seems, too late already.
I know your honor is wise and so forth; and I desire to be only cathecized or examined by you, my noble Lord Chancellor.
Sirrah, sirrah, you are a busy dangerous ruffian.
How long have you worn this hair?
I have worn this hair ever since I was born.
You know that’s not my question, but how long
Hath this shag fleece hung dangling on they head?
How long, my lord? Why, sometimes thus long, sometimes lower, as the Fates and humors please.
So quick, sir, with me, ha? I see, good fellow,
Thou lovest plain dealing. Sirrah, tell me now,
When were you last at barber’s? How long time
Have you upon your head worn this shag hair?
My lord, Jack Faulkner tells no Aesop’s fables. Troth, I was not at barber’s this three years; I have not been cut not will not be cut, upon a foolish vow, which, as the Destinies shall direct, I am sworn to keep.
When comes that vow out?
Why, when the humors are purged, not this three years.
Vows are recorded in the court of Heaven,
For they are holy acts. Young man, I charge thee
And do advise thee, start not from that vow:
And, for I will be sure thou shalt not shear,
Besides, because it is an odious sight
To see a man thus hairy, thou shalt lie
In Newgate till thy vow and thy three years
Be full expired. Away with him!
Cut off this fleece, and lie there but a month.
I’ll not lose a hair to be Lord Chancellor of Europe.
To Newgate, then. Sirrah, great sins are bred
In all that body where there’s a foul head.
Away with him.
Exeunt all except Randall.
Enter Surrey, Erasmus, and Attendants.
Now, great Erasmus, you approach the presence
Of a most worthy learned gentleman:
This little isle holds not a truer friend
Unto the arts; nor doth his greatness add
A feigned flourish to his worthy parts;
He’s great in study; that’s the statist’s grace,
That gains more reverence than the outward place.
Report, my lord, hath crossed the narrow seas,
And to the several parts of Christendom,
Hath borne the fame of your Lord Chancellor:
I long to see him, whom with loving thoughts
I in my study oft have visited.
Is that Sir Thomas More?
It is, Erasmus:
Now shall you view the honorablest scholar,
The most religious politician,
The worthiest counsellor that tends our state.
That study is the general watch of England;
In it the prince’s safety, and the peace
That shines upon our commonwealth, are forged
By loyal industry.
I doubt him not
To be as near the life of excellence
As you proclaim him, when his meanest servants
Are of some weight. You saw, my lord, his porter
Give entertainment to us at the gate
In Latin good phrase; what’s the master, then,
When such good parts shine in his meanest men?
His Lordship hath some weighty business;
For, see, yet he takes no notice of us.
I think ’twere best I did my duty to him
In a short Latin speech.
Qui in celiberima patria natus est ett gloriosa, plus habet negotii ut
In lucem veniat quam qui—
I prithee, good Erasmus, be covered. I have forsworn speaking of Latin, else, as I am true counsellor, I’d tickle you with a speech. Nay, sit, Erasmus;—sit, good my Lord of Surrey. I’ll make my lady come to you anon, if she will, and give you entertainment.
Is this Sir Thomas More?
Oh good Erasmus, you must conceive his vain:
He’s ever furnished with these conceits.
Yes, faith, my learned poet doth not lie for that matter. I am neither more nor less than merry Sir Thomas always. Wilt sup with me? By God, I love a parlous wise fellow that smells of a politician better than a long progress.
Enter Sir Thomas More.
We are deluded; this is not his lordship.
I pray you, Erasmus, how long will the Holland cheese in your country keep without maggots?
Fool, painted barbarism, retire thyself
Into thy first creation!
Thus you see,
My loving learned friends, how far respect
Waits often on the ceremonious train
Of base illiterate wealth, whilst men of schools,
Shrouded in poverty, are counted fools.
Pardon, thou reverent German, I have mixed
So slight a jest to the fair entertainment
Of thy most worthy self; for know, Erasmus,
Mirth wrinkles up my face, and I still crave,
When that forsakes me I may hug my grave.
Your honor’s merry humor is best physic
Unto your able body; for we learn
Where melancholy chokes the passages
Of blood and breath, the erected spirit still
Lengthens our days with sportful exercise:
Study should be the saddest time of life.
The rest a sport exempt from thought of strife.
Erasmus preacheth gospel against physic,
My noble poet.
Oh, my Lord, you tax me
In that word poet of much idleness:
It is a study that makes poor our fate;
Poets were ever thought unfit for state.
O, give not up fair poesy, sweet lord,
To such contempt! That I may speak my heart,
It is the sweetest heraldry of art,
That sets a difference ’tween the tough sharp holly
And tender bay tree.
Yet, my lord,
It is become the very logic number
To all mechanic sciences.
Why, I’ll show the reason:
This is no age for poets; they should sing
To the loud canon heroica facta;
Qui faciunt reges heroica carmina laudant:
And, as great subjects of their pen decay,
Even so unphysicked they do melt away.
Enter Master Morris.
Come, will your lordship in?—My dear Erasmus—
I’ll hear you, Master Morris, presently.
My lord, I make you master of my house:
We’ll banquet here with fresh and staid delights,
The Muses music here shall cheer our sprites;
The cates must be but mean where scholars sit,
For they’re made all with courses of neat wit.
Exeunt Surrey, Erasmus, and Attendants.
How now, Master Morris?
I am a suitor to your lordship in behalf of a servant of mine.
The fellow with long hair? Good Master Morris,
Come to me three years hence, and then I’ll hear you.
I understand your honor. But the foolish knave has submitted himself to the mercy of a barber, and is without, ready to make a new vow before your lordship, hereafter to leave cavil.
Nay, then, let’s talk with him; pray, call him in.
Enter Faulkner and Officers.
Bless your honor! A new man, my lord
Why, sure, this is not he.
And your lordship will, the barber shall give you a sample of my head. I am he in faith, my lord; I am ipse.
Why, now thy face is like an honest man’s:
Thou hast played well at this new cut, and won.
No, my lord; lost all that ever God sent me.
God sent thee into the world as thou art now,
With a short hair. How quickly are three years
Run out of Newgate!
I think so, my lord; for there was but a hair’s length between my going thither and so long time.
Because I see some grace in thee, go free.
Discharge him, fellows. Farewell, Master Morris.
Thy head is for thy shoulders now more fit;
Thou hast less hair upon it, but more wit.
Did not I tell thee always of these locks?
And the locks were on again, all the goldsmiths in Cheapside should not pick them open. ’Sheart, if my hair stand not on end when I look for my face in a glass, I am a polecat. Here’s a lousy jest! But, if I notch not that rogue Tom Barber, that makes me look thus like a Brownist, hang me! I’ll be worse to the nittical knave than ten tooth-drawings. Here’s a head, with a pox!
What ails thou? Art thou mad now?
Mad now? Nails, if loss of hair cannot mad a man, what can? I am deposed, my crown is taken from me. More had been better a’ scoured Moreditch than a’ notched me thus. Does he begin sheepshearing with Jack Faulkner?
Nay, and you feed this vein, sir, fare you well.
Why, farewell, frost. I’ll go hang myself out for the poll-head. Make a Saracen of Jack?
Thou desperate knave! For that I see the devil
Wholly gets hold of thee—
The devil’s a damned rascal.
I charge thee, wait on me no more; no more
Call me thy master.
Why, then, a word, Master Morris.
I’ll hear no words, sir; fare you well.
Why dost thou follow me?
Because I’m an ass. Do you set your shavers upon me, and then cast me off? Must I condole? Have the Fates played the fools? Am I their cut? Now the poor sconce is taken, must Jack march with bag and baggage?
Nay, you ha’ poached me; you ha’ given me a hair; it’s here, hear.
Away, you kind ass! Come, sir, dry your eyes:
Keep you old place, and mend these fooleries.
I care not to be turned off, and ’twere a ladder, so it be in my humor, or the Fates beckon to me. Nay, pray, sir, if the Destinies spin me a fine thread, Faulkner flies another pitch; and to avoid the headache hereafter, before I’ll be a hairmonger, I’ll be a whoremonger.